Now you, too, can conduct a Mendelssohn symphony

Now you can conduct a Mendelssohn symphony—if you can get to the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Museum in Leipzig. An installation at the museum called the Effektorium provides a user-friendly way for a musician of limited skills to conduct glorious music.

The idea for the Effektorium originated in the cooperation between Bertron Schwarz Frey Studio and WHITEvoid, which administered the implementation. WHITEvoid describes itself as operating “at the interface of art, design, and technology” to create “spaces, installations, and products for museums, exhibitions, trade fairs, festivals, events, concerts, and clubs.” Bertron Schwarz Frey, with studios in Ulm and Berlin, says it “works in the fields of visual communication, museum and exhibition design, and management and information systems.”

A museum visitor enters the Effektorium to find himself or herself at a conductor's stand with a selection of musical scores displayed electronically on a 32″ touch screen. The orchestra consists of 13 mono speakers mounted on stands, with each speaker representing a voice group. Each speaker can play back a professionally performed version of the work that the visiting conductor chooses; voice groups were recorded with separate microphones so the visiting conductor can regulate the volumes of the voice groups individually. LED panels on the stands display voice-group names and sound levels. The visitor receives conductors' baton equipped with a Leap Motion controller, which detects the baton's movement to infer the visiting conductor's desired tempo—which may differ from that of the professionally recorded work.

Major orchestral works use all 13 voice groups. For the “Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream” (by the Mendelssohn-Orchester conducted by David Timm), for example, the groups consist of first violins, second violins, violas, violoncellos, double basses, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, French horns, trumpets, tubas/ophicleides, and timpani. The choral octet “For He Shall Give His Angels” (by the Leipziger Universitätschor conducted by David Timm) makes use of eight voice groups: soprano 1 and 2, alto 1 and 2, tenor 1 and 2, and bass 1 and 2.

The original works conducted by David Timm were recorded dry. The visiting conductor can specify that reverb be generated in real time to mimic the acoustic characteristics of a music salon, concert hall, or church.

In addition, the visiting conductor can compare his or her efforts in conducting Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”) with that of five different conductors: Claudio Abbado, London Symphony Orchestra, 1984; Franz Konwitschny, Gewandhausorchester zu Leipzig, 1962; Herbert von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker, 1971; Kurt Masur, Gewandhausorchester zu Leipzig, 1987; and Riccardo Chailly, Gewandhausorchester zu Leipzig, 2009.

An Apple Mac mini computer handles the user-interface functions with custom Java software. A second Mac mini handles audio mixing and reverb generation via Ableton Live.

Watch the video of the Effektorium in action at http://vimeo.com/86918178.

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